The video game industry is in the middle of, arguably, its most unstable period — the landscape is evolving almost too quickly to track. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are currently sticking to the course as constants, in general maintaining well-worn business practices while attempting to adjust to new challenges. The biggest impact on current gaming is arguably from downloads, which is an area becoming more varied as time passes — we have the iOS and Google Play marketplaces, with a variety of phones, tablets, TV and handheld consoles all attempting to grab a share of those enormous user-bases.
The challenge for Nintendo and its console manufacturing contemporaries is to offer a download platform still attractive in the age of free or 99 cent games. The iOS and Google stores follow a different pricing policy from what we may think of as a "conventional" structure for platform companies like Nintendo — that term alone could spark a series of debates — with many games costing less than a chocolate bar and relying on big sales numbers, micro-transactions, in-game advertisements or a mixture of all three. When games arrive on a platform such as the 3DS eShop from a smartphone equivalent, meanwhile, one of the first comparisons made is with price, and often the Nintendo platform comes with a higher cost of entry.
In this article our focus is on the 3DS eShop — the Wii U eShop's rivals and competitors form a slightly different dynamic with, for example, Steam on PC — and today's revelations from Gunman Clive developer/publisher Bertil Hörberg, who took to NeoGAF to outline sales across iOS, Android, 3DS eShop and other platforms. While it can be assumed that iOS and Android Play are the platforms that make small indie studios rich and successful — an argument that's becoming more common — Hörberg's experiences show that the eShop is more than holding its own, and actually outstripping sales on the Apple equivalent.
It should be noted that Hörberg was careful not to give firm sales figures, which in all likelihood would violate NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) on the related platforms, but we can assume solid overall numbers from the following statement — "the total sales are still not massive and I'm hardly wealthy yet, but I've been well rewarded for the time put in and it's made a very healthy profit considering how little I've spent on it." He also states that sales on various PC and Mac services (not including Steam) have been relatively low — less than 200 on PC — and the pie chart alongside this text shows that it's the portable markets bringing the most success.
As that same pie-chart shows, and as Hörberg has explained, 3DS eShop sales have already surpassed the lifetime sales on iOS, despite the title being on 3DS just a month, and only two and a half weeks in North America — it's been available on iOS since April 2012. Google Play is the undoubted star, with its overall figure a "long way off" for the eShop release, though consistent sales on 3DS may see it get close in the long term. Below is the line graph from our original article which shows the first two months of equivalent sales on each platform, of which the 3DS eShop is only halfway through the period.
This graph demonstrates multiple key points. On the one hand, it shows the power that exposure and front page marketing can have on Google Play, with the title's sharp increase a result of being "featured" and then being discounted for a spell — sales increased, in Hörberg's words, 10,000% over a two week period. It did make the iTunes New and Noteworthy list for around two weeks in some countries, yet despite an increase it didn't hit the heights of the Google equivalent.
What's interesting about the title's strong sales on 3DS is that it wasn't heavily promoted on the eShop. It didn't get a prominent front page slot when released — though would have scrolled through as a new release on the ticker-bar — and it has featured in category lists such as "5 Star Software" in some countries and in locations such as the UK as part of the "Winter Highlights for Nintendo 3DS" shelf. Yet its sales, especially since it arrived in North America, have been on a steady upward trajectory. Hörberg concluded his post with the following comments.
Obviously iOS is a much larger market and it might not be possible to become an overnight millionaire on the eShop, but for a small game with no marketing and little prerelease hype it does feel like the eShop is a healthier market, and while it's received some promotion from Nintendo it doesn't seem to be as reliant on it. It could also be that the word of mouth is helping a bit more on the 3DS because of buttons etc, but overall the response for the smartphone versions was also very positive. The total sales are still not massive and I'm hardly wealthy yet, but I've been well rewarded for the time put in and it's made a very healthy profit considering how little I've spent on it. There's still no telling where the 3DS sales will end up, and the other versions are still selling, though not at a very impressive pace.
The comments about the healthy state of the eShop market from a small developer such as this will be music to the ears of Nintendo, and as some of the Nintendo Life community has already pointed out is perhaps indicative of the relative strength of Nintendo's digital platform business model. While Android and iOS are flooded with new entries on a weekly basis, with thousands of games competing for attention, the eShop still follows a licensing approach — developers are approved and, it seems, pay for development equipment and resources. It's a traditional model that Nintendo's no-doubt adapting to welcome indie developers; a balancing act between opening the gates to those that are interested, while still managing and controlling content.
This publishing model, for the immediate future at least, will mean that the current rate of releases across the four online stores will continue to be, roughly, between four and eight new downloads a week. While these games won't all be top-notch — as our review team can attest — some most certainly will be, and the realities of a smaller audience will be offset by greater visibility and a more reasonable volume of competition. Even without significant front-page presence, such is the weekly release schedule and overall game library that Gunman Clive has still earned attention and, importantly, sold a good number of copies; its budget price-point probably helped, it must be said.
Comparisons between Nintendo's eShop platforms and those from Google and Apple are often unreasonable, as they have entirely different structures. What is undeniable is that Nintendo is continually asked to justify its business model and methods for download games. It won't always hold up against the high-profile runaway hits on smartphones and tablets, but we should remember that for every smartphone millionaire developer, hundreds and maybe thousands have probably sold very few games. Gunman Clive gives us one example where Nintendo's approach is undeniably successful; this perhaps explains why a core group of committed developers — those such as WayForward Technologies, Renegade Kid and Shin'en Multimedia — keep coming back.